This film is held by the BFI (ID: 19812).


A survey of various community development projects, connected with housing, health, irrigation and transport organised by individual villages with the help of the District Officer.

A title introduces the film as 'The Story of how the people improved their villages by their own efforts, encouraged by the District Officer in conference with the Elders and Councillors'. The film presents an outdoor meeting chaired by the District Officer, which is intercut with footage from the development projects discussed therein. First, the District Officer discusses the 'need for maternities', as the film shows an African nurse handing out medicine at the new Maternity Home in Awgu. This encourages a councillor from Achi Isikwe to start a 'Maternity' in his own village, which African labourers begin working on. A leper is then taken by his Chief to the 'new Leper village of Mbanano', and the 'councillors of Egbo Etiti are also encouraged to speed up the building of their leper village'. Here African labourers are shown digging, and laying cement.

With the conference finished, the District Officer goes to inspect 'progress in the building of the Awgu Orphanage and Pre-Natal Centre'. Young children work on the site, as the District Officer talks to a European. 'Meanwhile the people of Umuhu Awgu are building a butcher's stall' and at Owelli 'the villagers help to build a maternity'. The District Officer calls an African worker down from the roof and seemingly offers him advice. Next, the District Officer witnesses the progress made by the people of Ameta Mbowo with their new water supply. Titles explain that 'the Otokwa Maku water supply is well advanced', the 'people of Oduma are helping to construct a well' and that 'The Abboh rainwater tank is completed'. Further water projects are shown at Isikwe and Afam Awgu, which is illustrated by an African washing in a newly-constructed shower. The latter stages of the development projects are now shown ('at Umuhu Awgu the butcher's stall is now completed'), along with the development of a feeder road (for the people of Ezeneri and Ezenesi) and a bridge (for those of Obune Ingi). The shots of African labourers continue, as titles explain that 'the people of Awgunta and Egwu Acho work together in making a road that will join their villages'. The workers are seen coming together and shaking hands. Final construction work on the bridge at Obune Ingi and the road at Ngene Ugbo follows, where the locals 'rejoice' when the District Officer drives past. The District Officer then stops his car and gives a local man, Okafor, and his pregnant wife, a lift to the new Maternity home at Owelli. The final title explains that 'a few days later Ofakor sees his wife and their healthy new-born baby' as the film shows the family smiling outside the maternity home.



Rosaleen Smyth has discussed the production of community development films in Nigeria after the war in her work on the Colonial Film Unit in post-war Africa. She explained that the CFU team, which had come out to West Africa in 1946, had consulted with government departments in Lagos, and ‘one suggestion was for films to promote specific development projects: wells, roads, dispensaries’. Smyth further explained that the ‘locale chosen was the Udi Division of eastern Nigeria where the district officer, E. R. Chadwick, was an early devotee of fundamental education’ (Smyth, 1992, 167).

Smyth refers in particularly to Village Development (1948), which she notes was itself the inspiration for the Oscar-winning 1949 Crown Film Unit documentary Daybreak in Udi. However, the CFU team worked on a number of development films, tailored for specific local audiences. A look through the pages of Colonial Cinema shows titles including Community Development in Okigwi Division, Awka Division Community Development, Community Development, Ashoada Division and Awgu Marches Forward. Indeed, P. Morton Williams, who showed Community Development in Awgu as part of his research into rural audiences in Nigeria in 1952, explained that this was ‘one of a number of films recording community development in the Ibo Villages in S.E. Nigeria’ (Morton-Williams, 1952, 22).

Community Development in Awgu was thus a record, and an active component, of a broader development project within Eastern Nigeria. I.C. Jackson, a District Officer in the region, discussed the program in Awgu in his 1956 book Advance in Africa, noting and discussing many of the specific developments shown within the film. He stated that ‘hundreds of miles of road have been built; scores of schools and water-tanks have been constructed; and there are now dozens of dispensaries, maternity homes, leper villages, markets and the like’. Jackson argued that village development work reached its climax ‘in 1949 when the film “Daybreak in Udi” was made’ and further noted the role that film played at the Community Development Training Centre in Agwu, as film shows were often presented in the evenings. ‘Most of the films have a community development “slant”’ he stated, ‘and the cinema provides an excellent way of learning and relaxing at the same time’ (Jackson, 1956, 23, 93). Jackson emphasised the role of film within these projects, stating that ‘when a village is visited by a travelling cinema, everyone turns out to see the show and all come away with a common background of knowledge to use in discussions on projects that the village may tackle’ (Jackson, 1956, 79).

However, he also emphasised the perceived different filmic requirements of African audiences, endorsing the arguments of William Sellers and other CFU filmmakers. ‘The unsophisticated village audience’, he argued, ‘has little interest in the finer points of the cinema technique which appeal to Europeans. It prefers a slower moving film which portrays familiar scenes and everyday actions’ (Jackson, 1956, 80). Norman Spurr, who headed the local CFU operations, and conducted an experiment into film audiences in the Udi Division in 1948, also followed the oft-quoted arguments of Sellers and others at ‘The Film in Colonial Development’ conference in 1948 as he suggested that the local audiences were confused by close-ups and viewed the film in literal terms. He was referring here to a sequence from a local CFU film depicting road-building. He further suggested that many of the viewers were impressed with the labouring work performed – “These road-makers are good workers indeed… Ah labourers, see how great work they are doing” – but many ‘failed to connect the film with his own district’ (Spurr, 1948, 10). 

P. Morton-Williams showed Community Development in Awgu, with commentary in Ibo, in the village of Maku in June 1952 and noted that ‘there was much excitement and shouting and laughter and talking at the sequences shot in their own village area’. His survey notes an excitement born of recognition, yet he also noted that there were complaints at a Group Council Meeting in Awgu ‘that their own film was ludicrous compared with those of development in other Ibo areas’. The problem primarily concerned the tempo of the film – it was projected at 16 f.p.s. but shot at a faster rate – and Morton-Williams explained that ‘as everyone was shown moving very slowly, it looked as if they were lazier than other people, and they felt they had been shamed and were angry’. Morton-Williams did conclude however, that ‘there seems no doubt that these films have stimulated villagers to compete in development undertakings’ (Morton-Williams, 1952, 130, 133). Rosaleen Smyth, with reference specifically to Village Development, noted that these films were ‘designed to promote community development in Nigeria by arousing the competitive spirit. Villagers were to be stirred to greater efforts through being shown the achievements of their neighbours’ (Smyth, 1992, 167). Jackson also recognised this function, arguing that the mobile cinema vans could both stimulate the ‘laggard villages into action’ and reward those which are making ‘real efforts at self-help’ (Jackson, 1956, 80).

The opening title within Community Development in Awgu lists the director as ‘A.A. Fajemisin (Nigerian Film Unit)’, ‘supervised by D.R. Gibbs (Acting D.O., Awgu Division)’. Alex Fajemisin was one of the local members of staff – along with J.A. Otigba and Malam Yakuba Auna – who had recently gone on a nine-month training course at the film training school at Achimota College in Accra. The Nigerian Film Unit was borne out of the Colonial Film Unit, but although the film represents an early example of the work of a trained Nigerian filmmaker, it was not until 1950 that the Nigerian Film Unit assumed responsibility for production in the area. 



In 1949 a documentary on community development programmes in Eastern Nigeria won the Oscar for best documentary and received notable publicity and exposure both in Britain and overseas. That film was Crown’s Daybreak in Udi, and its success and relative notoriety has overshadowed the many other productions during this time that sought to present these development projects to local African audiences. Amongst these films is Community Development in Awgu Division, Nigeria, which while technically and artistically less accomplished than Daybreak in Udi, still offers much to interest both film and colonial historians.

First, it serves as a historical record not just of the widespread community programmes introduced in Nigeria after the war through the Development and Welfare Act, but also of the ways in which the British sought to represent its own role in these developments. The film emphasises the range of communities involved and records the British initiatives in introducing new maternity halls, leper villages, orphanages, bridges, weaving centres and in particular water facilities. This clearly promotes the role of the British in modernising and ‘civilising’ the area – shown in the familiar terms of health, sanitation, transport and education – and in doing this offers a largely traditional representation of a previously undeveloped Africa (as seen through the barely clothed labourers). The District Officer is celebrated – most notably in a staged sequence in which locals cheer as he drives past – and a clear hierarchical structure is illustrated through the initial conference.

Secondly, it illustrates the emphasis placed on film within these development programmes. These films were shown to local audiences to illustrate the work performed by neighbouring communities and to acknowledge and encourage further developments within the viewing community. In particular, this film stresses the role of the voluntary local workers, with frequent shots of men, women and children labouring together and rhythmically digging and working in unison. It emphasises collaboration as it shows workers from two villages – in another clearly staged sequence – coming together and shaking hands. Furthermore, in its formal structure, the film presents the developments performed by a succession of named villages, as the film was intended to inspire by illustrating the work of specific, locally identifiable communities.

Thirdly, the film serves as an early example of a developing Nigerian Film Unit. While this is effectively a Colonial Film Unit production, the director is a local filmmaker, credited as a member of the ‘Nigerian Film Unit’. Significantly though, the credits state that this CFU-trained filmmaker was ‘supervised’ by the Acting D.O. and in this respect, the film’s production endorses a message and rhetoric found within the film itself. Immediately after this credit, a title explains that the film outlines ‘the story of how the people improved their villages by their own efforts, encouraged by the District Officer in conference with the Elders and Councillors’. The film’s narrative, such as it is, shows the District Officer discussing and proposing developments to the assembled African representatives of the local communities, before the African workers carry out these proposals. Indeed, the District Officer – virtually the only British figure seen within the film – is effectively the film’s protagonist, as the camera, for the most part, follows him as he checks the progress of the projects and links the disparate projects and scenes together. The film by what it says and how it says it – its narrative and in its production – thus proclaims a colonial rhetoric of increasing African responsibility, while still emphasising the continued British supervision under which these developments occur.

Tom Rice (February 2009)


Works Cited

Colonial Cinema, December 1950, 96.

Colonial Cinema, March 1951, 24.

Colonial Cinema, June 1951, 48.

Jackson, I.C., Advance in Africa: A Study of Community Development in Eastern Nigeria (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956).

Morton-Williams, P., Cinema in Rural Nigeria: A Field Study of the Impact of Fundamental-Education Films on Rural Audiences in Nigeria (Lagos: Federal Information Services, 1952).

Shaka, Femi Okiremuete, Modernity and the African Cinema (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2004).

Smyth, Rosaleen, ‘The Post-War Career of the Colonial Film Unit in Africa: 1946-1955’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 12, No.2, 1992, 163- 177.

Spurr, Norman, ‘A Memorandum on the Results of Research into Audience Reactions to the Films, carried out in Udi Division in February 1948’, accessed at the BFI. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
27 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
951 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Production Company
Nigerian Film Unit
Supervising Producer





Production Organisations